When Silo opened in Brighton in 2014, it launched as ‘the world’s first zero-waste restaurant’. Having moved to east London’s Crate Brewery in November last year, Casual Dining Magazine booked in to experience what could possibly be the restaurant model of the future.
For those that never visited before its closure, the tales told of Silo’s Brighton restaurant had the potential to be ever so slightly exaggerated when it came to the zero-waste site’s sustainability credentials. It had built such an impressive reputation around its holistic and environmental stance that a few Chinese whispers had made their way into the chatter. “Did you hear? They only serve fish that wash up on Brighton seafront!” “Oh, yes, their salt is incredible. Did you know that they have their own salt mine in Hove?”
The truth is that the truth is far more remarkable than those muttered myths. The aim of founder Douglas McMaster, from day one in Brighton to month three in London, is to work only with natural materials, creating everything from its whole form. For example, the restaurant mills its own flour from unique varieties of wheat, which has led to the now UK-wide famous ‘siloaf’ bread, which is served at the start of every tasting menu in the new Hackney site alongside its own hand-churned, aged butter. Wall lights are made from crushed wine bottles previously emptied by thirsty guests; they trade directly with farmers; every fresh ingredient is picked or gathered each morning by one of Silo’s 10 perishable ingredient suppliers; they compost any leftover scraps. In fact, during our visit, we watched wide-eyed as a young apprentice chef methodically scraped every last crumb of siloaf from a breadboard into a basket, ready for composting at the end of the shift. They caramelise the whey that comes from their homemade hemp cheese; the décor has been created using waste or thoughtfully sourced materials that will either biodegrade or disassemble for repurposing in the future. I could go on.
And so could they! The only seats left when we visited in the build-up to Christmas were two stools at the bar/open kitchen. My opinion? Best seats in the house. As each course is being prepared, the brigade were all too happy to talk you through the intricate ideas behind the food, with a few exceptions – some recipes are closely guarded by McMaster. Not only are the chefs keen to talk you through the methods behind Silo’s meals, but they do so with a jubilance and energy that makes you believe you’re the first person to be told such secrets. Here is a hospitality team with a beautiful passion for what they are creating, and rightly so.
The challenge for McMaster – one that he set himself – is to show diners that when eating this style of food, sourced and cooked with this approach, your experience doesn’t need to be compromised. My word, has he achieved this. It’s early days for the London site, but his five years of operating Silo in Brighton have allowed him to figure out what works, what doesn’t and what is yet to come. As you’d expect from a restaurant with sustainability at its core, the six-course tasting menu (£45 per person) is largely plant-based, but they don’t pander to such a stance – it’s just how it is. When meat and fish do make an appearance, the chefs talk you through which animal has been used and why. Cuttlefish is chosen due to its ‘pest/invasive’ species label – numbers need cutting down, but not enough are being eaten in the UK. The beef course is a braised Friesien dairy cow, served with parsnip and lemon thyme – dairy cows ordinarily going to waste/dog food tins once their milk-producing purposes have run dry.
For me, while the cuttlefish and beef courses would go toe-to-toe with pretty much any other restaurant in the country, the plant-based dishes were the star performers. The pink fir potatoes, caramelised whey and emerald kale; and the Jerusalem artichokes cooked on fire and served with cashel blue and ruby kraut both left us a little dazed for the flavour profile delicacies. And that’s before one of the team explains the process behind caramelising the whey or creating the cashel blue. Eating kitchen-side is like a chef’s table experience and a cooking class rolled into one.
The wine list has been put together by Ania Smelskaya, previously of Sager + Wilde and Silo Brighton. As you’d expect, the wines are sourced from small, artisanal producers, such as Sussex-based wine Ben Walgate of Tillingham Wines, and Eduard and Stephanie Eselböck-Tscheppe of Gut Oggau, where they produce biodynamic, zero-sulphite wines. We try a few glasses, highlights being Azul Y Garanza’s Naturaleza Salvaje – an orange wine packed with citrus, peach, a few herbs and flowers; and Domaine Sebastien David’s Hurluberlu cabernet franc, which, as one chef commented when hearing my order, “is like some incredible, magical cherry juice, but, you know, wine.” It was wonderful.
As was the entire experience – from service to food to décor to detail to even the toilets, we loved every minute of Silo. The fact is we don’t have enough room (or intelligence) to fully convey the detail behind McMaster’s creation, but what we can say is that it is a must-visit.
The year ahead will only bring more scrutiny and focus on sustainability within the restaurant sector – more operators will want to learn what they can do to lower their footprint without compromising on the quality of their respective operations. In Silo, you’d undoubtedly be learning from the best.